Advertising appeals…is there a correct dosage of sex, humor & fear?

Advertising appeals such as sex, humor and fear can have numerous effects on audiences – some bad, some good.  As the old adage argues, “Sex sells.” With modern advertising containing countless sexual appeals, it can be presumed sex does sell.  Humor, just like sex, can have positive effects on audience attitude and may lead to sales in the long run.  However, advertisers must be cautious when using sex and humor as it may have an adverse effect on the audience.  Humor can create a relationship with consumers, which can enhance their thoughts and feelings toward a brand or product.  When using humor, however, it must be done in a balanced manner – not too much, but not too little.  If a high/extreme humor appeal is used, it may alienate the audience from the message and they may not remember/recall the brand or product advertised. Advertising that creatively incorporates a product or service in moderate humor appeals will be more effective as it relates the message to something entertaining that an audience may later recall. Moderate humor will allow a relationship between the audience and advertiser, while increasing the likelihood of the viewer to decode the message more effectively.

Fear appeals can be somewhat different from sex and humor appeals and must be used cautiously so as to not create too much arousal or anxiety.  A moderate level of fear can motivate an audience to seek ways to alleviate the fears that may be caused by the message.  For example, if a girl watches a commercial about HPV and is afraid that she may get HPV if she doesn’t receive the Gardasil vaccine then she may seek more information about vaccine to assuage her fears. If excessive fear appeal is used, however, it may cause too much arousal or anxiety and the audience will employ defense mechanisms such as ignoring the message altogether. Advertisers and marketers must be wary of the amount of fear they inscribe in their marketing communications because they may alienate their audience entirely.

In terms of effectiveness, gender differences exist – as they most always do – in the manner an audience will respond to an advertisement.  Men may interpret humor that uses more competitive or vulgar appeals better rather than humor that contains less.  While women, on the other hand, are less likely to enjoy raunchy humor.  If an ad makes a jab at another’s expense, women are more inclined to feel emotions and interpret the ad as distasteful. The same goes for sexual appeals used in advertisements.  Vulgar and excessive sex appeals may be repulsive to women, while men tend to welcome escalated sexual appeals.  Biologically, men and women are wired differently in relation to arousal and anxiety.  Therefore, when faced with messages incorporating fear women tend to have a lower tolerance and higher avoidance than men.  Men tend to have higher coping ability with fear-based messages.

Largely, advertising appeals are tricky.  To be used effectively, many aspects of appeals must be considered carefully.  There is not a one-size fits all approach, so advertisers must adjust accordingly to each specific audience involved.

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